Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Period Pains

again an unintended blog hiatus. a lot has happened. we went on a beautiful holiday to bhutan, K's family moved back lock stock and barrel and in a few days, mine will be here to spend easter. Bhutan was gorgeous... for some pictures, head over to the cooking blog. K's parents moved back to hyderabad finally after 8 years of  subtle and not so subtle brain washing.

I am typing this from my bed. am lying on my back, propped up with pillows, with a hot water bottle under my back. its that time of the month for me and today i had such a miserable morning. a few years ago, i didnt even notice when my periods came and went. all that has changed the last few years. this particular period has been very difficult. i couldnt wake up at my usual time this morning because of my discomfort and only waited for K and the maids to leave to get back into bed and rest through the crazy cramps. while i am grateful that i can take the day easy and rest this off, i feel so terrible for women who do not have this luxury. 

i am also grateful that i dont have a family that treats me like a pariah when i have my period. i have a neighbour living on the 3rd floor of our building and their balcony faces ours. each month, i see the young daughter in law, sitting during the day on the floor of the balcony and at nights, sleeping just inside the doorway. i wonder how she feels that something so personal is out for public view quite literally in her case. And while i understand the whole spiel that it is intended for rest to the woman etc, why cant she rest in her own bed/ room and the comfort of her home and not be isolated on the balcony? what if she wants to lounge about and watch tv? we once shared a maid with these neighbours and they asked her not to come work when she was having her period. the maid was more than happy since she could get off easily and drew the line when they refused to pay her for those days. her stance was that she was ready to come and work, they refused and so they had to pay her. she was not willingly dodging work here so she was entitled for her pay. i agreed with her.

infact, i think it is a time when i do appreciate the rest and all. and i do rest "if i need to". but i would hate to be treated like a leper. i would hate to be isolated and then told that it was for my own good. and served food like an untouchable.

most indians, follow some kind of ceremony to celebrate / mark the first period of a girl. even in our predominantly christian household, the hindu influence was unmistakable. i knew exactly what was happening to me and had my mom to talk to. I hated the morning ritual of swallowing a whole raw egg with sesame oil, said to strengthen the back and general health. and refused to do continue with the raw egg swallowing after 2 days, my mom too didnt force me since she was scared i would puke on the floor! apart from that, there were no restrictions and life was as usual. i was not very comfortable with the whole ceremony that happened at the end of the 5 days. but since we lived in a quasi joint family with my uncle and cousins next door, and every celebration from a birthday to an anniversary was celebrated with the same set of 2-3 families, we had a celebratory lunch. i did find it very embarrassing, but in about 10 minutes i was quite happy to be fussed about and we had a prayer, i was blessed and then the shower of some nice gifts happened. i also remember being insanely jealous when my cousin had her period because her family was richer and had a huge ceremony with 100 people and she had a gorgeous saree. i didnt for once wonder if she was jealous of me since her period was announced to the whole world. I do know that i wouldnt do it to any girl i know. infact when my niece recently started hers, i just talked to her about hygiene and left it at that. i didnt think she could handle anything more than that....

the whole flowers and fruit and clothes and gold routine, is very indian / hindu and i remember being told by my aunt to not go near the church altar for communion if i was having my period. very similar to the do not enter the temple ritual. i realised it was absurd and the same god i worshipped had made me, periods and all and unless i was dying with cramps or discomfort during which i would generally avoid stuff that made me more uncomfortable, i would not follow  these silly rules. infact no one needs to know i am having my period. its my business and what you dont know wont hurt you. so if any of you have this no touching business or no enterring the kitchen stuff, i am sorry, i may have violated your rules. i have been to temples, poojas and churches when i have had my period and will continue to do so. what you do need to be particular about is only two things, hygiene and comfort. 

life moved on as usual with the next period. infact i can vouch that i used it as an excuse when it suited me, to run errands and do stuff rather than have my family isolate me. even today, i use pms as an excuse when i know i have been unreasonable, K is the only one at the receiving end. 

in school i remember girls being embarrassed when they missed school and ashamed of themselves if they stained their uniforms and it being treated like a major catastrophe. i couldnt understand why we needed to be ashamed of something that one, is totally normal and natural and two,beyond our control. oh and the embarrassment of buying a sanitary pad. i had that too, sending out my mom when i needed it, mostly because there was an idiot in the store who used to be lecherous. i found a way out by buying my stuff at the supermarket, always stocking up so i can avoid emergency runs. the last thing you want to do when the hormones are making you crazy, and the cramps are making you nauseous, is to be caught without the comfort of a sanitary pad/ tampon. my years in a hostel refreshingly exposed me to girls who would matter of fact ask if you had extra sanitary pads, cos they ran out. if i do send K out to buy them for me, he will drive me and the store guy nuts with calls to ensure i have the right brand/ specifics and he doesnt make a wrong purchase and add to my discomfort. infact he apologizes that he cant share the discomfort with me. is ever willing to wake up in the night to get me a hot water bottle, tablet if i need one. i think concern and consideration beats any explanation that is given to force isolation on menstruating women. but like all things that have lasted past their prime, we are made to think that these practices are for our own good and due to our lack of ability to spot a good thing when we see it, we call it useless.

i realise that i was fortunate enough to develop my own sense about my periods and menstruating and i could practice what suited me and comforted me best. this isnt the case with every woman even today. there is no dearth of people and practices that continue to make us feel different in a not so nice way. every opportunity including a period which is the most natural thing to happen, is used to make the woman feel like it is a curse and her secret to be kept covered lest anyone knows of it, and yet is made to live the life of a pariah in varying degrees, not based on her comfort, but on the permissiveness of the family she lives with. makes me sad and angry at the same time.